The number 1 seeded Boston Celtics moved on to the Eastern Conference Finals by beating the Washington Wizards in game 7 on Monday night. The series against the Wizards was tough, but now they face an even bigger challenge in the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
Most were putting the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals regardless of who they played in the Eastern Conference Finals, but I wouldn’t count out Boston just yet. After game 7 against the Wizards, Isaiah Thomas said, “They didn’t give us a chance in this series. They didn’t give us a chance when we were down 0-2 in Chicago. We got the No. 1 seed, and they didn’t give us a chance. They don’t ever give us a chance, and we just keep going. We don’t care about what others say.”
Clearly Thomas and the Celtics think they have a chance to beat the defending NBA champions. Cleveland has their struggles just like any other team. They’re facing the 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, the best team they’ve faced in the playoffs so far.
Cleveland was 3-1 against the Celtics in the regular season this year, but as LeBron said, “I’m not one to get caught up in the regular season.” This is the playoffs. All that matters now is what happens from here on out.
Each team will be on a mission to make it to the NBA Finals. Before game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals tonight, let’s take a look at the 3 things each team must do to make that happen.
1. Keep Avery Bradley on a Hot Streak
Avery Bradley averaged 15.6 points per game in the series against the Wizards. When the Celtics won, he averaged 17.5 points. In their losses, he averaged 13 points. Boston will need Avery Bradley to have productive games in this series. If he plays like an 18+ point scorer, Cleveland will be forced to guard him. This will take their attention away from players like Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, leaving them more one-on-one opportunities to score.
2. Get Production From the Bench
In game 7 against the Wizards, the Celtics bench outscored the Wizards bench 48-5. Those 5 points all came from one Wizards player. The lack of production from the Washington bench players left everything on the shoulders of John Wall and Bradley Beal. If the Celtics want any chance of beating the Cavs, they need to get this same kind of production from their bench in every game. They can’t leave everything on the shoulders of Isaiah Thomas. The Celtics bench will have a bigger challenge in this series though. The Cavs bench has players such as Kyle Korver and Channing Fyre. Both are great shooters, unlike those on the bench of Washington.
3. Slow Down LeBron James
The most important thing the Celtics can do in this series, is find a way to slow down LeBron James. They’re not going to stop him, but they need to slow him down. In eight playoff games this year, LeBron is averaging 34.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 2.1 steals, and 1.5 blocks. He’s doing all that while shooting 55.7% from the field and 46.8% on 3pt shots. Is it even possible to slow down LeBron? Maybe not, but the Celtics don’t have a choice if they want to win this series.
1. Don’t Allow the Celtics Role Players to Get Hot
One of the biggest reasons for the Wizards game 7 loss, was the great play of Kelly Olynyk down the stretch. Olynyk scored 26 points on 10-14 shooting. He was almost unstoppable. Cleveland can’t allow Olynyk or any other Celtics role players to do this. The good news for Cleveland is they have the size to match up with any player on the Celtics roster. If something isn’t working, they can plug someone else right into the line up.
2. Outscore the Celtics in the 4th Quarter
In 5 of their 8 playoff games this year, Cleveland has been outscored in the 4th quarter. They’ve built big enough leads in the first three quarters to not have to do a whole lot of scoring in the 4th, but they can’t allow that to happen against the Celtics. The lack of scoring in the 4th has allowed teams to get back into games they really shouldn’t have been in. Their lack of 4th quarter scoring was the reason for the scare at the end of game 1 against the Pacers. They were one shot away from going down 0-1. Their scoring in the 4th quarter must improve.
3. Limit the scoring of Isaiah Thomas in the 4th Quarter
The Celtics were the highest 4th quarter scoring team in the NBA during the regular season, averaging 27.7 points. Isaiah Thomas accounted for just over 10 of those 4th quarter points. With the troubles Cleveland has had scoring in the 4th quarter this year, they need to find a way to limit Isaiah Thomas in crunch time. If Cleveland allows Thomas to get hot in the 4th, they could find themselves in some trouble.